Mental Health Awareness Week (18 to 24 May 2020) is hosted by the Mental Health Foundation. It’s the UK’s national week to raise awareness of mental health and inspire actions to promote the message of good mental health for everyone. The theme this year is kindness.
Our vision at the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is to be an organisation where mental health issues are widely understood and de-stigmatised and where mental well-being is promoted.
Taking a pause: mindfulness
The changes we’re all experiencing during this current time will no doubt cause some levels of stress and/or anxiety. Much of the personal time that used to be part of our daily routines, commutes, time alone at home, going to the store is not available. It’s extra important to be intentional about creating space to recharge. Deciding to set time aside each day to practice being mindful is a great place to start.
Mindfulness is developed by purposefully paying attention to the present moment with curiosity and kindness to things as they are. In other words, opening, in a non-judgmental way, to what is going on in your body, heart and mind, and in the world around us.
The IPO has collaborated with Bangor University’s Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice to run 8-week mindfulness courses for staff. Bethan Roberts, who leads the course at the IPO, commented:
Through these group courses we become more aware of habits and old patterns of reacting that create stress and other difficulties in our lives. And with this new awareness, the joys and challenges of life can be met in a new way. This allows us to be less stuck, and to have more options, more strength and more confidence in our possibilities, more wisdom and be more alive to life.
Due to social distancing measures, the March to April mindfulness course sessions had to move online. This brought some challenges as group discussions are an important part of this process. However, thanks to modern technology, the classes were able to continue virtually.
Supporting well-being through AI
Many of the IPO’s well-being initiatives have had to turn virtual during this time, from our lunch time meditation sessions to our counselling service.
Before the pandemic, trained mental health advocates at the IPO were able to meet with colleagues across the office who were experiencing mental health worries. Their role involved signposting colleagues to the relevant services or offering a friendly ear so that a co-worker could feel supported.
With the current ongoing situation, the team have had to adapt their services and now offer virtual well-being appointments along with our staff counsellors. The team have also launched a new initiative, pro-actively contacting staff members who are new to the office, live alone, or who are first time homeworkers.
New routines can result in feeling anxious and can cause sleep disruption. Thanks to technology, we can access well-being resources at the touch of a button.
Spotify and Apple Music have playlists to help soothe listeners before bed or to promote happy thoughts. Apps such as Headspace and Calm can help us to meditate, alleviate anxiety or have a better nights’ sleep. At the IPO, we are looking to trial the Headspace for Work programme which offers comprehensive mindfulness training.
Staying connected while socially distancing
There is an abundance of innovations which have helped make interaction easier as social distancing measures are in place. At the IPO, we have held virtual tea points on Yammer for colleagues to connect with each other informally, hosting games and competitions.
Apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are helping us to connect professionally and personally. From work meetings to catch ups with family, and virtual pub quizzes to karaoke nights with friends. Technology has allowed us to continue interacting with loved ones in a way that wouldn’t have been possible not so long ago.
Missing your gym buddy? Even our fitness sessions have turned virtual through subscriptions services like Peloton and Fiit, where users can participate in a group activity from home. At the IPO, we are joining in the boom in ‘virtual fitness’ through online desk yoga sessions to help participants de-stress and prevent physical strains.
Taking care of you
For many, technology has been fantastic in enabling us to stay connected with loved ones, continue working from home and to access well-being resources. However, we should recognise that everyone’s needs are different, and some may feel the need to take a digital detox during this time. The most important thing is to take care of yourself and others.
If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, the NHS website has a list of helplines and support groups who can offer expert advice.